NRIs' campaign nets a low-budget airline

DUBAI - After almost two decades of sustained campaigning, Indian expatriates in the UAE have finally succeeded in convincing the Indian government about the need for a budget airline between India and the Gulf, particularly for the lot of the poorly paid labourers who cannot afford to pay the peak time air fares to Kerala and other Indian destinations.

By (By a staff reporter)

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Published: Tue 1 Jun 2004, 9:48 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:50 PM

In what is being hailed as a welcome decision, India's national flag carrier Air India (AI) gave a go-ahead on Saturday to float a new low-cost airline AI Charters Ltd to operate on the Gulf and South East Asia routes offering 25 per cent cheaper fares. The service will start operating from summer 2005 with a fleet size of 14 Boeing 737-800s and 127 flights every week.

Although the Indian expatriate community in the UAE is overjoyed with the new developments, they still feel that the 25 per cent reduction in the air fare is not enough, saying that a minimum 50 per cent reduction on the current fare structure was required.

AI Regional Director Captain P.P. Singh expressed satisfaction over the decision of the Ministry of Civil Aviation to announce a budget airline. However, he said the pressure stepped by the different Indian associations in the UAE in the recent past was unfair.

Captain Singh, who has completed his tenure in Dubai and will assume a different responsibility at the AI headquarters in Mumbai next week, told Khaleej Times that the introduction of a budget airline by AI was under active consideration by the government over the last one year. "We have been telling the Indian expatriate associations here that the Indian government was seriously looking into the prospect of launching a budget airline, considering the large number of Indian labourers employed in the Gulf."

The President of the Indian Association Dubai (IAD), K. Kumar, also hailed the decision, describing it as a welcome step. "I am happy that a budget airline is being started by our own national carrier, but we need to see how quickly we can put the plan into action."

N.P. Ramachandran, ex-president of Dubai Priyadarshini, highlighted that the 25 per cent reduction in the airfare was not enough. "The main idea of the introduction of a no-frill airline is to offer cheaper fares to the Indian workers here. But a mere 25 percent reduction in the existing fares will not make much difference. If Air Arabia and other budget airlines can operate at half the cost, why not Air India?" However, he described the move to launch a budget airline as an encouraging step.

Naushad Punnathala, convener of the United Malayalee Association, said the decision came soon after the new government had been formed at the centre. "We are meeting today to decide on going to meet the new Civil Aviation Minister to brief him about the real need of the expatriate community in the UAE." Mr Naushad, however, said the fare from Kerala to the UAE should not be more than Dh800 or Rs 10,000 even during peak times.

K L Gopi, President of Dubai Art Lovers' Association, termed the decision to launch a budget airline as appreciable. "But the AI fare to Kerala is very high."

Mr Gopi, however, felt that a budget airline would go a long way in addressing the woes of the lesser-paid Indian workers in the UAE.

Mechur Jayachandran, President of Dubai Kairalai Kala Kendram, said the fare from the UAE to Kerala is almost three times more (when taken into consideration the distance travelled) than other destinations where AI operates flights."


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